Boothroyd Leaves U21s Role After Five Years

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After nearly five years in charge, Aidy Boothroyd has left his role as manager of England’s U21s. The 50-year-old came under scrutiny last month, as his side crashed out of the Euro Championships at the group stage for the second consecutive time. His only silverware in five years at helm came as a team featuring England seniors Tammy Abraham, Fikayo Tomori and Lewis Cook defeated Mexico in the final of the 2018 Toulon Tournament.

The 50-year-old made his name as a popular manager for Watford and Coventry City amongst others, in the late 2000s and early 2010s. After being sacked with his Northampton Town side bottom of League Two, his next role was his first in the England setup — his friend and England’s then-director of elite development Dan Ashworth is believed to have been a close friend, and encouraged him to apply for the role of U20s manager. He duly got the job.

Two-and-a-half years later, with U21s manager Gareth Southgate assuming the position of interim senior manager following Sam Allardyce’s Daily Telegraph sting, Boothroyd became the U21s manager.

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His record at the helm reads well on paper. His 64.6% win percentage from his 48 games in charge is better than every England senior coach in history who has been in charge for the same number of matches. But football legacies are won and lost in major tournaments. It was here that Boothroyd really struggled to make full use of some of the nation’s most talented starlets in decades.

Only in 2017, in the first of three European Championship campaigns did his England make it out of their group — a side featuring Jack Grealish, Jordan Pickford, Ben Chilwell and James Ward-Prowse losing quite appropriately to Germany on penalties in the semi-final.

The most embarrassing shortcoming came in 2019. England were tipped to win the tournament, and without doubt should have at the very least challenged for the title given the strength of their squad. James Maddison, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Mason Mount, Phil Foden and Harvey Barnes were just five of the 23 who travelled to the finals in Italy and San Marino. Defeat to France and Romania and a draw with Croatia ultimately sent Boothroyd’s youngsters home in disgrace. For fear of a lack of game-time at his club Manchester City, he opted not to start the irrepressible Foden, inviting anticipated criticism.

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2021’s crop included Callum Hudson-Odoi, Eberechi Eze and Emile Smith Rowe. But defeat in their opener to the Swiss was a less than perfect start. It was catch-up from there on in. Another loss, this time to Portugal, left England needing to beat Croatia by two and also requiring help from the Portuguese in their game against Switzerland. Everything went England’s way; it looked like they might just complete a miracle. Domagoj Bradarić’s emphatic stoppage-time strike broke English hearts though. Looking back, it seems it also lost Boothroyd his job.

His contract was up in the summer, and it was always likely he’d move on. He made many friends within The FA, where he was seen as a polite and genuine person. However, results on the pitch are the immediate way in which is tenure will be judged. He told the media during the most recent Euro Championships that if the England senior role is the ‘impossible job’ then his is “the utterly impossible job.” He also argued that his job was to provide Gareth Southgate will U21s players deserving of senior call-ups, and that it wasn’t to win matches and challenge for the U21 Euros. This didn’t wash with journalists, nor with fans. It was the crescendo moment for a manager so often just a bit too honest and willing to answer the question for his own good.

He told that only playing small nations competitively (in qualifiers) does not offer much preparation for major tournaments. He called regular fixtures with lesser teams “something that we wrestle with and we’ve tried to address.” But when friendlies against Tier 1 opposition were organised, his side rarely fared well in them.

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Questions will now turn to who will replace him. Southgate’s transition from U21s manager to the seniors will serve as an added incentive to take this role seriously. The recently sacked Chelsea manager Frank Lampard has been widely tipped for the role, but Eddie Howe, Nicky Butt and others have also been touted. The FA issued a statement on Friday, ensuring that they will “now begin a formal open process to recruit Boothroyd’s successor.”

Boothroyd said it “has been the greatest privilege to lead the England teams into high-profile tournaments,” but admitted that “we didn’t finish in the way we wanted.” His predecessor Gareth Southgate thanked Boothroyd for his “wholehearted support and dedication to developing English players and coaches across the last seven years.”

Qualification for the next Euro finals, in 2023, begins in September. The FA is expected to have named a full-time replacement by then.

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